Kettle Ridge Farm in Victor is now making the honey-based craft beverage
VICTOR — With anywhere from 15 to 30 beehives, depending on the time of year, they have the bees.
And their bees — with as many as 50,000 for each hive — make honey. And lots of it.
So naturally, Kettle Ridge Farm is getting into mead making, the honey-based alcoholic beverage that for centuries has been labeled the nectar of the gods. Kettle Ridge now is a licensed micro winery and is producing several different kinds of the honey-based wine, in some small batches, anyway.
“We thought making mead would fit into that well since we produce honey,” said owner Joe Hurley. “It seemed natural as a product for Kettle Ridge Farm to use.”
In a few short months of experimentation, Kettle Ridge has come up with three meads, which are called the Delaney Jo, the Junebug, and the Hattie James. Each is fermented with raw honey, of course; it’s not mead without honey.
The Delaney Jo is what’s called an acerglyn, meaning maple syrup is added (as are blood orange, cinnamon sticks and clove in this particular mead) — and Kettle Ridge is known in these parts for its maple syrup varieties.
The Junebug is a cyser, meaning apple cider gives the beverage its backbone. The water used in fermenting the Hattie James was removed from maple sap collected on the farm. And it’s aged on citra hops, giving a hint of an IPA beer.
Meadmaker Justin Nelson said there was a learning curve at first. But when they thought they had it — before serving it to the public — the folks at Kettle Ridge conducted an informal, blind taste test.
And each of the meads stacked up well against the other varieties they sampled, Hurley said.
“It’s pretty good,” Nelson said. “It was surprising right out of the gate making something that hits the palate just right. I don’t think we’ve really scratched the surface of what we can do.”
As of now, the Kettle Ridge mead is served up at its special on-the-farm events, and it’s been an eye-opener for some, Nelson said.
Although mead has been around forever, people just don’t know a lot about it, he said.
“There are a lot of common misconceptions,” Nelson said. “When you think of honey, you often think of sweet. Mead is not. Basically, it’s just a very dry wine.”
Any of those misconceptions could be changing as more local mead begins to appear in the Finger Lakes and parts nearby.
Because of the growth of honey-making in New York and state legislation authorizing the licensing of farm meaderies that make and sell mead from New York-produced honey, mead someday could experience a boom similar to those of craft beer, cider and spirits.
The honey is already being produced, according to statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture. In 2018, the state produced more than 2.7 million pounds of honey at a value of more than $8.9 million.
And more than 600 meaderies are in operation across the United States, with more on the way, according to the American Mead Makers Association.
New York is well-positioned as mead and other craft-beverage producers begin to provide honey producers with new markets, according to Pilar McKay, agricultural economic development resource educator for the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Ontario County. The organization hosted a two-day mead conference in Geneva last year at which word got out that “something is happening in New York state” when it comes to mead, McKay said.
In other words, there is a buzz over New York’s and the Finger Lakes’ mead potential.
“Mead is going to be one of the highest value products you can make with honey,” McKay said.
Kettle Ridge Farm already has provided a fresh perspective and example to others in the region of what agribusiness and tourism can be, McKay said.
“Adding mead to the lineup will be very exciting and make some waves in a good way,” McKay said.
Kettle Ridge right now doesn’t have the capability to bottle its mead, Hurley said; in fact, its mead is poured from reused wine bottles.
But it may only be a matter of time.
“In the future, who knows?” Hurley said.
On the 'Hunt" for wine knowledge
Keuka College and Hunt Country Vineyards are teaming up for a 10-lesson wine certification program that allows students to explore, taste and earn certified mastery in the wines of the Finger Lakes.
Registration is open now for the online course, which includes wine tastings, video instruction, reading materials and online discussion with an expert instructor.
Here’s what students will learn about:
• the history and tradition of wine and winemaking in the Finger Lakes;
• sustainability in winemaking, including soil health, renewable energy and waste reduction;
• the vine-to-bottle process of winemaking; and
• how to refine your palate to distinguish the different characteristics of different wines.
Everyone starts out as a beginner when tasting their first wine, said Hunt Country Co-founder Art Hunt, who is one of the instructors.
“With this course, you’ll develop your own palate and you’ll be able to pick out all kinds of things that you’ll like in various wines,” Hunt said in a prepared statement.
The course begins Feb. 3. For information or to register, visit keuka.edu/go/lovewine.
Chefs needed for Chef’s Challenge
The Kiwanis Club of Canandaigua is looking for chefs, wineries, breweries and items for tastings as part of its eighth annual Kiwanis Chef’s Challenge.
The popular event is scheduled for 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 15, at Kings Catering in Hopewell.
The Chef’s Challenge, which raises money for the Kiwanis Project Fund, showcases more than 20 area professional and celebrity chefs who will serve sample-size appetizers, entrees, soups and salads, and desserts for an estimated 350 guests.
There will be a competition for food categories for professional and celebrity chefs. A panel of judges will vote for their favorites.
The Best Celebrity Chef will be awarded, as will the second and third best chefs.
For more information or to sign up, contact event chair Kat Purbeck at 815-302-7823.